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Power struggle at PalmSource

Having run a number of PalmSource developer conferences, Gabriel Acosta-Lopez has gotten used to some minor problems--but at least the lights stayed on.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Having run a number of PalmSource developer conferences, Gabriel Acosta-Lopez has gotten used to some minor problems--but at least the lights stayed on. Until this year.

After being delayed for four months in the wake of Sept. 11, the event was pushed back another three hours Tuesday because of a power outage.

With no clear sign of when the power might come back, Palm was forced to run the entire conference on backup generators, adding a few thousand dollars more in costs to an event that already runs into seven figures.

"This takes the cake," said Acosta-Lopez, Palm's head of developer relations. But, he added, people were calm--perhaps because there were so many Californians with experience from last summer's rolling blackouts.

And, Acosta-Lopez said, it could have been much worse. Had the keynote started at 8:30 in the morning, as it has in past years, the lights would have gone out just two minutes before the kickoff.

Most at the show made good use of the downtime. Many flocked across the street from the convention center to the San Jose Civic Auditorium and the developer labs, where the power was still on. For those less technically inclined, the auditorium also housed an Arcade--complete with video games, air hockey and a pinball machine--as well as a play area that included half a basketball court, an arsenal of Nerf weapons and a remote-controlled blimp, the size of a large flying watermelon.

The team of a half-dozen software developers from Britain's Astraware used the three-hour break as an excuse for a road trip.

PaperPalm "We went to Fry's (Electronics) and picked up a load of stuff we can't get in the U.K.," said Howard Tomlinson, the company's CEO and creator of the game "Bejeweled."

Sleight of Palm
The prospect of freebies is a draw at any trade show, and it appeared to the untrained eye that Palm might be giving away the best freebie of all: actual Palm handhelds.

In actuality, the company was handing out the PaperPalm, a notebook that resembles a handheld but is in fact just a clever-looking spiral-bound pad of paper. What appears to be the stylus is actually a golf pencil.

On the plus side, the batteries never run out and there is no reset button.

And it shows that although prices for Palm handhelds have indeed fallen in the past year, the company is not, in fact, giving them away.

Bagging the laptop
My goal was to report entirely from PalmSource using the recently introduced i705 wireless handheld. Though it's a fine product, there were a couple of hitches.

My first unit died after a few hours, making me leery of leaving my laptop at the office--in case I needed it as a backup. Unfortunately, to get corporate e-mail on the device, users need to have their PC on at the office, behind the firewall, redirecting the e-mail. Of course, since I had my office PC with me, this was impossible. But such problems won't arise after Palm releases its server-based software this summer.

Still, using the i705 meant that the laptop spent most of its time in my bag. I went online several times with the device, got a couple Web-based e-mails from editors and even a surprise AOL instant message from an old friend. This column was also written and filed using the i705, along with a combination of Palm's thumb keyboard and its fold-out keyboard.